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Lydia Hernandez has been lead custodian at the U.S. District Court building, 100 N. Church St., for the past 10 years.
At the end of April, the Las Cruces native got to share her employment story with other people with disabilities as one of 50 self-advocates selected from across the country to participate in the annual SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference which was held virtually this year.
Hernandez was selected to participate by Tresco, Inc., a Las Cruces-based nonprofit that helps employ people with disabilities. Tresco provides adult community supports services and children’s services (early intervention and the DayOne program).
It has more than 520 employees and more than 50 contracts employing about 230 disabled people, including Hernandez, in 11 New Mexico counties.
Becoming lead custodian at the federal courthouse “changed my life,” Hernandez said in her conference speech. Her job has “a lot of responsibility,” Hernandez said. “I try my best. I accomplish something. I like the people I work with. I like the people in the courthouse. They’re very nice.”
At the courthouse, Hernandez oversees a staff of five who are responsible for cleaning and maintaining the entire building and its grounds.
“Lydia is just one of the people I consider a breath of fresh air,” said U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales, who is presiding federal judge in Las Cruces. “She’s a wonderful person. She works very hard.
“In addition to all of Lydia’s fine qualities is her extra care for our safety, including arriving early and staying late to personally ensure door handles and high-touch surfaces remain safe for everyone in the courthouse.”
Gonzales, who has been on the federal bench in Las Cruces since August 2013, said Hernandez is “very modest, (and) would never speak about her honor.
“We’re very proud of her,” Gonzales said. “We thoroughly enjoy having her here.”
The five-day advocacy conference, which was held virtually April 26-30, also gave Hernandez the opportunity to advocate for better jobs for the disabled, as she met via Zoom with staff members in the Washington, D.C. offices of U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M.
“Lydia is the one who holds everything together at the federal courthouse,” Tresco Project Manager Robert Leonard said. “She’s on top of everything.”
In addition to their regular duties, Leonard said, Hernandez and her staff also are responsible for unscheduled service calls in the federal courthouse. That has recently included everything from disinfecting courtrooms, cleaning up a gasoline spill in the basement and cleaning up blood after a stabbing outside the building, he said.
“We are blessed to have her on our team,” said Tresco Community Engagement Manager Stacie Allen. “She’s so good at her job.”
When she’s not working at the federal courthouse, Hernandez is a caregiver for Ambercare, helping several clients with cleaning, shopping, doctor visits and more. She often stays after her shift is over to talk to her clients, Hernandez said.
Hernandez’s dream, she said, is to win the Powerball, buy a piece of land and put a double-wide mobile home on it.
Hernandez’s personal philosophy is “I just go do it,” she said.
Tresco’s mission “is all about the people we support,” Allen said. “They’re the best workforce – reliable, determined, persistent.”
Allen said she is hopeful the conference and the stories presented by Hernandez and other self-advocates will help more businesses to “open up their doors” to the disabled and “explore those possibilities.”
Tresco employs people with a wide range of physical and mental disabilities, Allen said. They work as custodians, plumbers, electricians, welders and much more. Many, she said, are military veterans dealing with combat-related injuries.
Like Hernandez, “they have a lot to give,” Allen said.
Contact Allen at 575-528-2206 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.trescoinc.org.